The treatment room where I'm having my radiotherapy is just down the corridor from the techno-tastic Starship Enterprise recording studio where I had my planning appointment, but looks much the same: space-age and hi-tech, but in a very 1980s way. It's silvery-grey with Commodore-esque computer screens and seemingly unattached keyboards in every corner, with bright strip lighting that occasionally dims to darkness. I was half expecting Five Star to walk in and re-film the System Addict video. The radio girls on my shift (let's call them Pepsi & Shirlie) have clearly caught onto the 80s theme, too – four treatments in and so far their stereo has played Eurythmics, New Order and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. After shouting out numbers over the sound of the music and drawing on me with felt pen, they leave me alone in the room to let the radioactive waves do their work, all the while watching me on CCTV as I lie still, half way through the YMCA, humming along to Now That's What I Call The 1980s.
When Pepsi & Shirlie come back, we fill our 30-second conversation window with utter fluff, as they unstrap me from the leather bed (don't get excited) and move the machines back to a position where I won't headbutt them on the way out. I like Pepsi & Shirlie. They're young, spritely, up for a giggle and constantly taking the piss out of each other. But my relationship with them is weird. It's not like chemo, where you've got all day to natter with the nurses. With radio, you're not in there long enough for a proper chat, so instead you end up with scattered nuggets of random information about each other. What I know about Pepsi & Shirlie so far is that they like to ask about the weather, that Shirlie's going ice skating this week, that Pepsi prefers Gary but thinks Jason's been looking hot recently, and that they both use their later shifts as an excuse to go late-night shopping. And in return, they know that my kitten scratched the hell out of my left hand when I tried to wet-wipe her, that I'd bought and wrapped all my Christmas presents by mid-November, that I agree on the Gary/Jason front and that I've ditched my wig in favour of headscarves.
That's right, people. I'm scrapping the syrup. Or at least for the most part. You might think this an odd decision, particularly in light of my last post, but if I've learned one thing from having cancer it's that you can't always trust your opinions (hell, I've gone from animal-hater to cat-owner in the space of six months). It was all a bit of an accident, really, but by Monday it was clear that my wig needed washing (it only needs doing every three weeks, but then takes 24 to 48 hours to dry), so I had no choice but to go without it for the day. And, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, I felt far less self-conscious wearing a headscarf than I ever had in my wig.
Actually I fibbed a bit back there. I did have a choice other than the headscarf: Wig 2 (AKA Erika). You might remember that some months back, mid-tantrum about losing my hair, I decided that wig-slaggery was the only way forward; that if I had to wear a wig, I'd employ a New Wig Army of different styles to suit my moods. As it happens, I soon came to hate Wig 2 even more than I hated Wig 1 and, to this point, it's had a grand total of three public outings, thanks to it being waaay too old-fashioned for a lass of 29. Wig 1's not much better, mind (I'm yet to see a contemporary, cutting-edge wig style for anyone under 50), but it became Default Wig when I realised that, actually, I just wasn't brave enough to defy my cancer-denying disguise and flip the bird to the world with my different wig-looks. What I wanted was to appear as though I'd just had a new haircut (albeit one that didn't suit me), and for people to see me without seeing The Bullshit. But that's brought its fair share of problems too.
I don't think I've ever communicated just how much I've loathed wearing a wig. (See, loathed. In bold and everything.) I hate that wig every bit as much as I hate the cancer that necessitated it. Aside from the fact that it's hugely unflattering, it's also itchy, annoying, I'm constantly aware of it, it embarrasses me and, frankly, in certain lights it's a bit on the ginger side. It's like carrying Geri Halliwell around on my head all day. And imagine having to prop her up on your bathroom windowsill every evening, where she'll freak you out when you get up in the night and be the first in-focus thing you see every morning. I've even stopped closing our bathroom door in the hope that the kitten might find it and claw it to pieces while I'm out.
And that's just the beginning of my reasons for relegating the wig. For another thing, it's shot to shit. Seriously, £200 and it's coming to pieces after six months. I've had 12 quid Primark shoes that have lasted longer. And while, on some level, it looks slightly more natural the messier it gets, it's lost that hair-like feeling (now it's gone, gone, gone) and feels less like living locks and more like someone's taken a can of hairspray and a cigarette lighter to a bale of hay. And then there's all the fiddling. Pulling the fringe forward to make it look more like the kind of hairstyle I'd wear, then pushing it back again when it tickles my bald eyelids. Taking every opportunity to push a furtive finger through the mesh to scratch the top of my head. Yanking it down at the back so it sits straight, then having to tuck in the label so it doesn't stick out at the back of my neck (yes, my hair has a label). Using loo visits as an excuse to whip the thing off and fan myself with it while I'm having a wee. Enough. I'm done with it.
Part of the reason I took the wig route in the first place was that I still wanted to feel desired. You may recall, early on in my wig-wearing days, how chuffed I was when a man in the street checked me out. Five months on, I've even lost the desire to be desired, which is saying something given the fit boy on reception in radiotherapy. But oddly – when you consider the obvious, cancer-cards-on-the-table effects – there are vanity reasons behind the headscarf-wearing, too. For one, I'm soon going to have short enough (or should that be long enough?) hair to be able to go without a wig or headscarf anyway. And since I've had long locks all my life, I've got to learn to stop hiding behind my hair. (Translation: before I unveil my newborn-baby-chic hairdo, I need to get people used to seeing my moon face.) Then there's the paranoia it'll spare me: I'd rather people came to the cancer conclusion after thinking, 'That girl's wearing a headscarf' than 'Do you reckon that's a wig?'. What I said earlier this week hasn't changed. I still hate people having to see me like this (and by people I mean my friends and family, not your average punter on the street). But still, no matter how much eyeliner I apply or hair I pretend to have, the paranoia is always there. Are they wondering what I look like with no hair? Can they see the redness around my eyes? Is my wig further down on the left than the right? It's exhausting. So I'm giving up the ghost (well, except for special occasions, perhaps: weddings, parties, posh restaurants, the football...). I'm coming out of the cancer closet. And, to paraphrase George Michael, the game that I'm giving away just isn't worth playing. Freedom!